How Getting Out of Debt Changed Our Family - by Amy Whatley

I watched a friend of mine, Amy Whatley, accomplish an amazing feat. She stayed home, raised three kids, and pulled her family out of debt. The Healing Wall is about transformations. Overleveraged lifestyles is one of the most strangling, grinding burdens that has become normal in our culture. It pushes all our other goals to the back burner as we run from crisis to crisis paying one growing bill after another. Amy and her husband decided to make a change. This is their story:

My husband, Dan, and I started out our married life the way so many young people do…in debt!  We had both graduated with bachelors’ degrees and both had great jobs lined up after graduation.  The large student loan debts that got us to those great jobs seemed like a “normal” part of young adult life. And so, we made plans to carry around this baggage for years and just pay it off as we went along.  It was what so many others just like us were doing and seemed like a very mature way to handle things.  

So, off we embarked on new adventures in a new big city with new big (for us) income. We took the next logical step and purchased (read as financed…all of it) a brand new house in a cute little neighborhood with lots of other cute little houses just alike.  Then to fill our cute little house, we went out to the big furniture stores and financed some furniture to fill our space.  Of course, our old cars wouldn’t do with our new lifestyle, so we quickly found ourselves needing a new car.  Financing to the rescue again! We bought a brand new car that we financed for way more years than it would retain its value.  We were living the “American dream” and it was fun, but also frightening.  Thankfully, we were smart enough with money that we never really got into big trouble like missing payments, but our paychecks were always eaten up before they even hit our bank account and we certainly were living paycheck to paycheck.  Savings for the future was in the plans...one day!

Life went on and we started a family and decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the big city and move back to our college town where we could enjoy a much slower speed of life.  All we had to do was sell our cute little house to another cute little newly married couple.  If only it would have been that easy.  In 2008 the recession hit and, along with many others, our house sat empty and on the market for an entire year, while we paid rent and utilities in two cities.  To say that our finances were stretched is an understatement.  But, by the grace of God and with help from our wonderful families and lots of lifestyle changes, we made it work.  

The month our house sold, we also read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and decided right then and there to make a change in our life.  We cut up our credit cards and came up with a plan to pay off all our debt as quickly as we could.  As we saw it, we had already gotten used to living on less since we had the drain of a mortgage and utilities in another city for an entire year.  So that money being freed up was like an entirely new income and one that we wanted to be smart with this time around.  

We started budgeting our money before it hit our bank account. We sat down together as a couple and pre-arranged where every penny was going to be spent.  We began selling things – like that new car – and we paid for things with cash and only made purchases or went on vacations if we had the full amount of money already-no more credit cards! The biggest focus was getting rid of the debt we had incurred as quickly as possible.  We started with the smallest debt first, paid it off, and then moved onto the next.  And before we knew it, we were tackling the monster that was thousands in student loans.  It felt so good, but it was also very challenging.  There were lots of frustrated tears cried over having to say no to fun activities that everybody else was doing or that cute new outfit that I needed. But, we stuck to our plan, and in about two years we had paid off everything!  It was a feeling of freedom that I never knew existed. And it taught us discipline in more areas than just our finances.  I found myself eating healthier and taking better care of my body.  We were better about making it to church and tithing the way we should.  It is strange the way strengthening yourself in one area of your life has a ripple effect on the rest of your life.  

Today, we are able to live a little more because we have gotten ourselves out of trenches, but, we still live by the principles we learned through the process.  We pay for most of our day to day expenses with cash because we spend less this way.  We save for vacations and activities so that we can pay for them up front instead of using a credit card.  And now we are even able to save for our retirements and our kids’ future college funds which was always put into the “one of these days” categories.  I’m so thankful for the lessons we’ve learned along the way and for the way it has helped us grow stronger.  It was the positive change we needed to gain the freedom to live OUR dream rather than the “American dream.”

You can reach Amy at amywhatley@bellsouth.net

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